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The goddess Iabet protecting Ramses III

Iabet, Cleanser of Ra, Personification of the East

by Caroline Seawright

Updated: December 3, 2012


i3bbt mountains determinative

Iabet (Iabtet, Iab, Abet, Abtet, Ab) was the goddess of the Eastern Desert, of fertility and rebirth. She was a personification of the land of the east - i3b iabt - and was known as Khentet-Iabet (Khentet-abet), 'Before the East'. She was believed to wash the god Ra, and was linked to the rising of the sun in the east. Iabet greeting Ra (the sun) from the Book of the Dead of Nes-Ptah

Image © University College London

The chthonic goddess of the East, Iabet, who is far less important than her counterpart of the West, Amentet, does appear together with her in New Kingdom private tombs, on coffins and sarcophagi, and on funerary papyri in scenes relating to the course of the sun (variants are Isis = Amentet and Nephthys = Iabet). She is virtually absent in royal tombs of the New Kingdom (possibly present in the Amduat, 1st hour).

-- Beiträge Hornung (1998), Ein ägyptisches Glasperlenspiel

One princess, from the reign of Khufu, may have included this goddess as part of her name - Nefert-Iabet (Nefret-Iabet, Neferet-Iabet) nfrti3bt 'Beauty of Iabet'. Then again, her name may have meant 'Beautiful One of the East', with no link to the goddess Iabet. (The Hieroglyph i3b is used in words relating to 'east' or to 'left'.)

Princess Nefert-Iabet It was believed that Iabet had been charged to wash Ra, and thus linked to Qebehet (Qebehout, Kebehut, Kebhut, Kebechet, Kabechet, Kebecht), daughter of Anubis, who was a deity of freshness and purification of the dead through water. At temples throughout Egypt, some of the priests had a special job as part of the daily ritual - that of purifying the temple deity. Using incense to purify the air, the deity was lifted out of his or her shrine, was washed, anointed with oils, dressed in white, green, red and blue cloths and fed. Iabet's washing of Ra may have been related to a belief in Ra's morning ritual, similar to the priestly ritual of serving the gods.

The Egyptians personified the cardinal points of the horizon in goddesses that differentiated themselves by the headdress which they wore on the head ... She was a celestial goddess, mother and wife of Min who was known as "The Bull of His Mother", the original title of Ra.

-- Amigos de la Egiptología, Iabet [English via Google Translate]

Iabet was thought to be the mother-wife of the god Min, god of the Eastern Desert and fertility. She was also linked to Ra, as the east was the birthplace of the rising sun, who comes back from his nightly travel in the underworld, returning the the land of the living. She was to the goddesses Isis, Nephthys and to Hathor, who took the name Khentet-Iabet. She was sometimes depicted with Amentet, the goddess of the west. Like Amentet, she was a goddess of the desert and of rebirth, and thus fertility.

Iabet's relationship to Min, being thought of as both his mother and his wife, may have come from Min's title, "The Bull of His Mother": The headdress of Iabet - The spear or standard and hieroglyph of the east

What that epithet means is not clear until we examine what happens within a herd of cattle. The dominant bull impregnates all heifers, including his mother! ...

The analogy is readily graspable by anyone when looking at the death of the old king and the coronation of the new king in almost any polygamist culture. One of the first acts of the new king is to claim the old king's women. The fact is that the new king's mother is among the old king's women. Whether or not the new king ceremonially 'impregnates' his own mother, I cannot say.

-- Daniel Kolos, Family and Sexual Mores in Ancient Egypt

There may have been a male version of Iabet. In The Book of the Earth of Ramses VI, there are two male deities who are shown to welcome the sun - i3bbth t mountains determinative iabtht and amnth t mountains determinative amntht. Iabeth may have been the male personification of the east, and maybe a husband or companion of Iabet.

Iabeth and Amenteth welcoming the sun, from the tomb of Ramses VI
Image © Eliot Elisofon

In the Amduat, Iabet is depicted as a woman with her arms by her sides, under the name of Iab - i3bb iab. Along with eleven other goddesses, including Nit, Isis, Amentet and Tefnut, the group was known as "Those who give praises to Ra as he passes over Wernes".

Iabet holding aloft the back of the barque of the Horizon, from the tomb of Pabasa As Amentet represented the start of Ra's journey into the Duat, Iabet represented the end of his nightly journey. It was probably in relation to this event that she would wash and purify Ra, at the beginning of a new day. However, she was never as important as Amentet, the goddess of the west:

A probably unique depiction of the Eastern Goddess is found in TT 82 (Amenemhet), where she appears analogous to a depiction of the Western Goddess on the opposite wall. Here she is seated in front of the kneeling tomb owner, who offers her wine, and she is even given the epithet khnwt ntjrw. Although this scene might be regarded as indicating an elevation in the importance of the Eastern Goddess, there is no further similar evidence. This scene was thus probably just included for reasons of symmetry, the clear east-west position being temptingly suitable for such a double scene. The epithet, too, was probably added to correspond to that of the Western Goddess, who appears with the same one.

-- H. Refai (2001), 'Iabtet, The Goddess of the East' in Annales du Service des Antiquites de l'Egypte, p. 91

Iabet did not have any temples in her honour, but she was worshipped in Khent-Min (Panopolis, Akhmim), along with Min, but only appears iconographically in tombs (rarely outside of Waset (Thebes)) during the New Kingdom. Another goddess, Repyt (Repit), was also considered to be Min's companion there. Little remains of Khent-Min, but there is a nearby rock chapel of Nakhtmin, First Prophet of Min, dedicated to his god and the local deities.

Further Information about Iabet

Video of Iabet

A video filled with images of the goddess Iabet (and other deities), by Egyptahotep:

© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2003 - present

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